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Thursday, December 02, 2021

Internet Cookies: Everything you need to know

Internet Cookies
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Cookies are waiting for us everywhere we go, every time we buy something online. 

While that scenario sounds wonderful and a little ominous, in principle, most of us are aware that browser cookies are a reality of life in the digital era. That is why it is critical to understand cookies and how we may utilize them without allowing them to use us.

What are tracking cookies?

Cookies are small text files that transform ordinary internet encounters into customized, relevant, and even rewarding ones. Online companies may better understand their customers’ and prospects’ interests by using online monitoring and cookies, allowing them to offer targeted advertising and personalized marketing messages to them.

A cookie is a little piece of data that is stored as a text file in your browser’s store cache. When you visit certain websites on the Internet, web servers send cookies to your browser. These cookies often include an ID number as well as the URL that sets the cookie. The website you visited saves a similar file (with the same ID) to track and record information about your site behavior, as well as any information you freely supply when visiting the site, such as your email address.

Cookies are classified into two categories based on their function: required cookies and non-necessary cookies. The necessary cookies are those that are needed for a website to function correctly. Non-required cookies, on the other hand, are those that are inserted by the website and are not always necessary for the website to work properly.

What are the types of cookies?

Session cookies

A session cookie is the most basic form of a cookie. Session cookies live only in temporary memory and are erased when the browser is closed. Any cookie that is created without an expiration date is considered a session cookie. Session cookies are commonly used to store what is in your shopping basket on an e-commerce site. Although most advanced e-commerce sites now save this info in a database on their servers.

First-Party persistent cookies

Persistent cookies are stored in the memory of your device and have an expiration date. They are solely utilized by the website that generated them, and they can last as long as the website requires. They are still present on your device even when you exit your web browser. Your web browser uses first-party persistent cookies for various quality-of-life upgrades, such as remembering that you’re logged in, so you don’t have to log in every time you access the same page.

Third-Part tracking cookies

An external server creates third-party tracking cookies using a piece of code put on the website you are visiting. Advertisers, data aggregators, and other websites typically produce third-party cookies, set via display advertisements, social networking plugins, live-chat popups, or web analytics technologies utilized by a website.

Third-party trackers can then be accessible by the third party that created them, and they are also referred to as cross-site cookies since they transfer information between websites. Then, third-party tracking cookies are widely employed for internet advertising and remarketing.

What a cookie is NOT?

A cookie is not a computer virus or piece of software. It is a text file that is installed on your computer and remains there until you erase it. Getting rid of cookies or preventing them from being placed is not the same as removing your browser cache or erasing your browsing history. If you are concerned about having an ID on your computer that relates to information about sites you’ve visited, or if you are worried about hackers stealing your identity, you should manage, remove, or even disable cookies.

Most current browsers make it simple to exercise the amount of control you require – simply search for information on controlling cookies in your individual browser and operating system. Remember that if you prevent cookies from being set, you will have to re-enter your information every time you visit a website. So, if you have faith in a brand, you might wish to leave certain cookies in place.

Cookies are not the same as clear gifs, also called web beacons. These are used to assist websites in content management by providing information into what material is beneficial. Clear gifs are tiny images with a distinct identity. They are used to track web users’ online movements. Clear gifs are placed invisibly on online sites, unlike cookies, saved on a user’s hard drive.

How do cookies track?

The cookie is saved on the user’s device in a cookie file when you visit a website. Each user’s cookie has a unique ID. Cookie makers use these IDs to identify users and track them online. Cookies collect information – online habits, prior visits, search history, and so on – and send it to the cookie owners’ servers. This data is then utilized to deliver targeted advertising and tailored content.

Cookies from websites you have not visited can potentially be used to monitor you. This is common when the web page you’re viewing hosts resources from another website. As a result, the cookies from that website are kept on your device, allowing the cookie server to follow your online activity.

Where do cookies come from?

Websites nowadays are rarely composed entirely of code and material written by the website owner or administrator. Instead, they leverage resources from other websites to construct and enhance their web pages. These materials are frequently beneficial, if not necessary, for a website to compete. Unfortunately, the same tools are frequently the most prolific offenders of internet monitoring. Some of the most frequent resources that utilize tracking cookies are advertisements, social media widgets like share buttons, and web analytics. 

You don’t even have to click on an ad or a social media sharing option for a tracking cookie’s data about you to be sent directly to the user or company that generated it. The cookie is transmitted to the server where it originated as soon as you load the page. If a cookie does not yet exist, the resource can generate one.

Assume you create a post and add a picture from another website. Even if you are not on that website and are just accessing a resource from it, the other website can set a cookie or send an existing one to its server. Likewise, most advertisements and widgets are not hosted by the websites on which they appear. They are just third-party resources, and they all employ cookies.

Are cookies really dangerous?

Cookies are generally beneficial to your website. It helps your website run smoothly and offers extra services that your company may require. On the other hand, cookies that track you are more of a privacy problem than a threat. They keep all of the data in the background. And they frequently do so without the user’s permission.

Third parties, such as affiliate networks and advertisers such as Google, Facebook, Amazon, and Quantcast, utilize cookies and other data tracking technologies to acquire user data without our permission. Tracking cookies may gather a large amount of personal information and behavioral data over time, including your location, device id, past purchases, search searches, and much more.

Tracking cookies have a poor reputation since advertisers may obtain basic data without users’ agreement. Users have expressed privacy concerns and are opposed to being monitored by any third-party software.

Consider an unknown entity watching your internet activity and collecting your personal information. Doesn’t that sound intrusive? Perhaps this is why we required tighter regulations to govern it, such as the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) and the EU Cookie Law.

GDPR

The GDPR requires user consent to gather personal information, including data acquired via online identifiers such as cookies. As a result, cookies are subject to the GDPR’s consent criteria. According to GDPR Article 4(11), user consent is defined as any freely provided, precise, informed, and unambiguous signal made by a clear affirmative action. As a result, websites must get the user’s permission before placing cookies on their browser.

The ePrivacy Directive, or EU cookie regulation, which precedes the GPPR, also requires websites to acquire user consent for cookies, with the exception of cookies needed to allow network connection and strictly essential cookies.

What information does a cookie have?

Tracking cookies are typically used for advertising reasons, particularly retargeting. Retargeting is a marketing strategy that uses tracking cookies to show adverts to people who have previously visited a particular site or expressed interest in a specific product. You’ve been retargeted if you’ve ever bought or looked at a product on Amazon and subsequently started seeing advertising for comparable goods on other websites.

Here’s a step-by-step breakdown of how retargeting works:

  1. You obtain a tracking cookie while visiting your favorite blog or retail site. That cookie carries a unique ID that does not individually identify you but does identify your web browser.

  2. The proprietor of the shopping website registers with and pays for an advertising platform such as Google.

  3. Google’s advertisements aren’t static; when you visit other websites that monetize with Google ads, the website detects the cookie and sends it to Google via the ad. Google identifies the unique ID contained in the cookie as coming from your preferred buying site.

  4. Google then displays an ad for the shopping site.

Other advertisers on Google’s ad network may also utilize that cookie if your advertising profile fits their target audience requirements. Therefore, it is beneficial to more than only the site where you obtained the cookie.

This may appear innocuous at first, but tracking cookies may quickly accumulate a wealth of information about your online browsing habits. Google advertisements may be seen everywhere, and while it is the world’s largest internet advertising firm, there are many others.

As a result, advertising businesses can piece together a history of which websites you visit, in what order, and for how long. When cookies are sent back to their servers, they frequently include information about the last site visited by the user, known as a referrer URL.

Browsing history is only the beginning. Tracking cookies can store various data, including search searches, purchases, device information, location, when and where you viewed prior adverts, how many times you saw an ad, and what links you clicked on. 

All of this and more are gathered frequently without your awareness or consent. Websites in the United Kingdom and the European Union are obligated to warn users if they employ tracking cookies. However, in the United States and other nations, all of this data is kept in the background.

How to stop cookies from tracking?

There are a few options for blocking third-party cookies. It is possible to achieve this using your browser settings. There are several techniques available in different browsers to prevent cookies and third-party cookies from websites. It should be noted that disabling all cookies may cause the site to malfunction since certain cookies are required for the website to work. There are two approaches: one is to disable cookies in the settings, and the other is to enable the “Do Not Track” (DNT) option.

To remove cookies already saved in browsers, look for options to clear cookies and delete them from the system. The first step in eliminating tracking cookies from recording your behavior is to remove any existing ones. You may delete cookies from your browser’s settings. 

Your browser does not differentiate between persistent cookies that serve beneficial jobs such as keeping you logged in to a website and those that breach your privacy and follow you across the web. When you clear cookies in your browser, they are all removed.

What is DNT?

Do Not Monitor (DNT) is a unique feature available in all browsers described above (excluding Safari) that allows users to tell websites not to track them. Although not all websites honor the DNT option, it is a functionality that users may use. In most browsers, you may find the DNT option under the privacy and security tabs.

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